And another academic year begins…

The first Monday in September traditionally marks the start of the academic year in the Netherlands. It’s the occasion where university leaders look ahead to the year to come and where inspiring speakers are invited to present their views and opinions. It is also an opportunity to see what the big issues are in Dutch higher education and how prominent is the international dimension in these issues. What will upcoming speakers (and past speakers, in those cases where the opening of the year took place prior to today) talk about?

A quick look at the guest speakers for this year and the topics of their speeches reveals that the universities have their eyes set on the future. The future of higher education seems to be the preferred topic in this year’s opening ceremonies.

The future is digital

European Commissioner Neelie Kroes, responsible for the Digital Agenda for the EU, will deliver a speech with the promising title ‘Europe 3.0’ at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. Although some might claim that Europe has not yet entered the Web 2.0 era, Kroes – also alumnus of Erasmus University – will reveal her ideas on the digital future of Europe. An IT-festival with the theme ‘Erasmus Virtual Campus’ will precede the Opening ceremony and will include presentations on e-learning and e-research.

At Inholland University of Applied Sciences (UAS), the future is digital. The ongoing digitization of society and the blurring of the boundatries between the physical and virtual reality will provide new opportunities for higher education according to keynote speaker and trend watcher Adjiedj Bakas in Rotterdam last Wednesday.

Differentiation is the future

The University of Maastricht addresses the question what the world will look like in 20 years, and what universities should be doing today to gear their education and research towards this outlook? And who better to ask about the future than a historian? In Maastricht historian and author Bettany Hughes will present her views on  the Socratic future of education and of society.

Discussions on the future of Dutch higher education focus mainly on the report ‘Differentiation in threefold’. This report was written by an international advisory committee on the future sustainability of Dutch higher education. The chairman of the committee – Cees Veerman – spoke at Saxion UAS, HAN UAS and will appear at the University of Utrecht today addressing the question: “Is knowledge still power?” At Utrecht UAS, the report was discussed in the context of Europe and the position of the Universities of Applied Sciences in Europe.

The future is Europe?

The University of Amsterdam takes the future of Europe as its central theme for this year’s opening. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, chairman of the European Parliament’s Green Party, will be keynote speaker and will explore how ‘The European Dream’ has evolved over the past few decades. Also, three of its professors will consider ‘The End of Europe’ through the lens of their respective disciplines (Eastern European Studies, European Law and Communication Science).

Study abroad is the future

A special mention should be given to a very exceptional opening. The Dutch students studying at universities abroad, united in NEWS (Netherlands Worldwide Students), organized their own virtual opening of their global academic year. In a virtual address, Alexander Rinnooy Kan sent them the message that the Netherlands can only survive as a knowledge economy if we excel internationally and that we need students that are aware of the opportunities abroad.

Some other interesting speeches planned for today are:

  • ‘Two Cultures’ by Pieter Winsemius (member of the Scientific Council for Government Policy) at the University of Twente. He addresses the question how the natural sciences and the social sciences can reinforce each other and how the university contributes to society.
  • ‘How engineers can save the world’ by Rosalind Williams, Professor in Science, Technology and Society at MIT, speaking at Eindhoven University of Technology.
  • ‘Looking further ahead: Research and innovation for the long term’ by Robbert H. Dijkgraaf, President of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) speaking at Leiden University.


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